The c-Abl protein tyrosine kinase is activated by certain DNA-damaging agents, and its overexpression causes arrest in the G1 phase of the cell cycle by a mechanism dependent on the tumour-suppressor protein p53 (refs 2-4). Here we investigate the possible role of c-Abl in growth arrest induced by DNA damage. Transient transfection experiments using wild-type or inactivated c-Abl show that both induce expression of p21, an effector of p53, but only wild-type c-Abl downregulates the activity of the cyclin-dependent kinase Cdk2 and causes growth arrest. Exposure to ionizing radiation of cells that stably express active or inactive c-Abl is associated with induction of c-Abl/p53 complexes and p21 expression. However, cells expressing the dominant-negative c-Abl mutant and cells lacking the c-abl gene are impaired in their ability to downregulate Cdk2 or undergo G1 arrest in response to ionizing radiation. We also show that expression of c-Abl kinase in p21(-1-), but not in p53(-1-), cells results in downregulation of Cdk2. Our results suggest that c-Abl kinase contributes to the regulation of growth arrest induced by ionizing radiation by a p53-dependent, p21-independent mechanism.